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Facebook Privacy: Secrets Unveiled

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Psst...have you heard?


Brandon lost his virginity this weekend.


Victoria called out sick to work so she could see a concert.


And Tony -- poor Tony. Let's just say he spent some time at the doctor's office for a procedure that involved a latex glove and a lot of grimacing.


Let me fill you in on a little secret: I don't know any of these people. Thanks to Facebook, though, I know plenty of personal things about them. And I'm willing to wager that they might not realize anyone else -- their parents, their teachers, their bosses -- could just as easily know this stuff, too.


Welcome to the weird new world of Facebook's privacy jungle.


Facebook's Privacy Problem


Much has been made over Facebook and privacy over the years, but the social network's most recent privacy changes seem to be generating a particularly loud uproar. It's no surprise, really: Facebook's recent adjustments make it incredible difficult to control your information in any reasonable way.


To wit: Achieving maximum privacy on Facebook now requires you to click through 50 settings and more than 170 options. And even that won't completely safeguard your info.


To fully understand Facebook's updated stance on privacy and your personal data, you'd have to wade through the company's 5,830-word privacy policy. That, as the astute crew from The New York Times noticed, is 1,287 words longer than the United States Constitution.


Those figures are attention-grabbing enough. But seeing what Facebook's privacy changes actually mean in practice is even more eye-opening.


Facebook Privacy: What the World Now Knows


Thanks to a couple of handy new tools, you can now check out exactly what Facebook is telling the world about you -- and about everyone else. First up is Openbook, a project created by three computer geeks from San Francisco.


Openbook lets you search through Facebook's publicly available user data to find out what everyone is saying. You enter a search term -- Openbook suggests loaded phrases like "cheated test," "don't tell anyone," and "lost virginity," but you can enter anything you want -- and the site displays pages of relevant Facebook status updates from recent hours.


Now, some of the things you'll find are perfectly innocuous. And others are clearly written by people who, for better or for worse, don't mind sharing their most intimate moments with the world. (We all know a few of those sorts, right?)


Others, though, make you wonder. Does Rachel from San Jose really want everyone knowing what happened at the gynecologist's office on Thursday? Does Martin of New Jersey want his teachers to learn he cheated on his language test on Friday? And does Michael of Pensacola want his boss to hear he called in sick the other day in order to take an impromptu vacation?


Probably not; after all, most people don't think of Facebook in the same way they think of a more public social network such as Twitter. But all of that info's now out there, along with far worse things that I couldn't possibly print in this story.


Facebook Privacy: A Wake-Up Call


A service like Openbook is amusing, sure, but it's also a real wake-up call. If your info is public and you're fine with it, more power to you. But if you aren't fully aware of what you're now sharing on Facebook, you'd better launch your own personal privacy setting investigation before someone finds something you'll later regret.


Here's the tough truth: Even if you have certain pieces of information set to be private, it isn't hard for an outsider to connect the dots and fill in the blanks. Take our pal Brandon, for example -- remember him? He's the lucky fella who lost his virginity this weekend.


I clicked over to Brandon's Facebook profile after seeing his status update on Openbook. Because of Facebook's privacy setup -- which now forces you to have things like your interests and "likes" linked to publicly accessible groups or community pages -- it took only a few seconds for me to ascertain exactly where Brandon goes to high school and what year he'll graduate.


Martin, our test-cheating youngster from earlier, left some of those details out of his profile. But Facebook still lets anyone see his friends, his siblings, and all of the things he and his social circle "like" -- and it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to create a fairly detailed docket from those combined tidbits of info. It's enough to give anyone a mild shudder.


Protecting Your Facebook Privacy


So what to do? You can always say so long to Facebook, of course. Or you can choose to stay with the site and simply be vigilant about protecting your privacy. It isn't easy, but it can be done.


You can see what Facebook shares with the world about you by using this free tool at zesty.ca; just input your Facebook user ID or account number (found by looking at the URL for your Facebook profile page), then click through the fields to see what's actually public. The tool won't take into account info that could be shared by applications or Facebook's "instant personalization" feature, but it's a start.


After that, get ready to dig. This daunting chart breaks down all of the categories of settings you'll need to review (hint: be sure to clear out a couple hours of your afternoon). This story provides a slightly less overwhelming summary of the main settings you should revisit. And this one goes through some additional steps you'll want to take to address the aforementioned new "instant personalization" options.


Do all of that, and you oughta be covered -- at least, that is, until Facebook unveils its next "user-friendly" privacy feature.*


* Just kidding about that last part.**


** Maybe.

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This is, wot, me received in me E-mail INBOX.


Facebook identifies hacker selling 1.5 million accounts


17 May 2010

Reports are coming in that Facebook has identified the self-proclaimed hacker who was offering to sell batches of 1000 Facebook accounts - up to 1.5 million in total - and it appears that the Russian hacker was wildly overstating the account numbers.


Weekend newswire reports say that the hacker, who is known as Kirllos, had succeeded in hacking into a number of Facebook accounts, which he planned to sell via online hacker forums.


However Facebook has told reporters that the Russian hacker was significantly overstating his account haul.


Robert McMillan of the IDG newswire quoted a Facebook spokersperson as saying: "We have determined Kirllos' identity through IP addresses, online accounts, and other information and believe that he's very likely a low-level actor."


McMillan says that Kirllos had been selling batches of 1000 accounts at between $25 and $45 a batch.


VeriSign's IDefense operation, meanwhile, says it it was able to trace the Russian hacker's internet connection, after he boasted he had as many as 700 000 accounts. Unconfirmed reports, however, suggest that Kirllos only had access a few thousand Facebook accounts and those accounts were attained where password security was poor or he had obtained the credentials using phishing and trojan attack methods.


Facebook has said it has handed over the results of its investigation to US law enforcement agencies, although newswire reports suggest that an extradition from Russia - where the hacker lives - is unlikely.


Facebook's apparent openness with the media comes in the wake of a wave of security problems with the social networking services this month, Infosecurity notes.


Unconfirmed reports had suggested that Facebook held a company-wide series of meetings last week to decide how to tackle the privacy issue, although the social networking service has been playing down media reports of its meetings.


According to Ed Rowley, product manager with M86 Security, Facebook is easy to use and this is the main reason why it is so popular.


"It is encouraging to see that they are trying to protect users by adding new security measures, as cybercriminals are so well-organised and well-funded that it is unlikely the platform will remain watertight for long", he said.


Unfortunately, adding granular security settings to anything involving individual user accounts, including Facebook, can be quite complex. It is likely that many of these security measures will remain options that Facebook users will simply ignore", he added.

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